Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Mosul’

Photo: Lina Malers.
Customers return to Maktaba al-Sham in Mosul’s Old City. Isis kept residents from books, but books won out.

Today’s story honors people who embody the human spirit: rebuilders, booksellers, and book readers. Even in the darkest days of Mosul, Iraq, when Isis believed it could control people’s thoughts, readers hungered for books, and booksellers supplied them. Today one bookseller is rebuilding in the rubble of Mosul’s Old City, on a street once famous for bookshops.

Pesha Magid reports at Atlas Obscura, “Tucked into an alleyway off Najafi Street in Mosul’s Old City is a small red and gold sign advertising a bookstore: Maktaba al-Sham. Not long ago, it was one of countless bookstores along the wide avenue lined with arched windows and doorways. Since the early 1900s the street has been a bustling cultural hub where intellectuals meet to sip tea, debate friends, and buy books.

“But today Najafi Street is in ruins, burned by the ISIS fighters who occupied Mosul and bombed by a United States-led coalition in an effort to liberate the city. The airstrikes destroyed many of the buildings, leaving only pits in the ground. Others are broken, their wire and concrete innards twisted and exposed. The elegant arched building entrances that remain lead to empty, dark spaces. Inside the shell of one former shop, you can still see the outlines of books set aflame by ISIS preserved in ash. Four years after the liberation of Mosul in 2017, Maktaba al-Sham is the first, and so far the only, bookshop to return to the street.

“Daud Salim first opened Maktaba al-Sham around 2001. The now-49-year-old man with silver hair and a hummingbird’s constant energy has loved books since childhood, and he found a natural talent for selling them. He started with used copies of novels by famed authors such as Agatha Christie and Victor Hugo, as well as some history titles.

“Salim kept the store open when ISIS took over in 2014, but on December 5, 2016, as the battle between ISIS fighters and liberation forces began to advance toward the Old City he realized the only way he could survive was by closing the store and sheltering in his home on the other side of the city. During the final battles in 2016 and 2017 ISIS took refuge in the maze-like warren of small streets in the Old City, blowing up the bridges behind them and trapping civilians there as human shields.

“When Salim returned to Najafi Street in March 2018, almost a year after liberation, the Old City was still a dangerous place. The streets were littered with broken pieces of concrete, and ISIS had booby trapped houses with explosives. … Despite the devastation, Salim decided to reopen Maktaba al-Sham. “This bookstore has big memories for me. I spent more than 20 years here. So I remember every place, I remember who went where and who did what, and I longed for it,” he says.

Also, he says the rent was cheaper in the rubble.

“Maktaba al-Sham is a small sliver of a shop, its interior hardly bigger than a closet and its walls fully obscured by books. But this tiny store’s return has outsized meaning to Mosul residents who feel they lost a key part of their city’s heritage in the battle. After the conflict Mosul became like two cities divided by its river. The Left Side of the city, where fighting and airstrikes were less intense, is again full of bustling avenues, restaurants, cafés, and residential neighborhoods, while life has returned more slowly to the Right Side, where the Old City is located. New cafés and markets on the Left Side sell books and attempt to fill the gap that the destruction of Najafi Street left behind, but hundreds of years of history cannot be easily replaced.

“ ‘Any person who loves books in Mosul, if you ask him what street he loves, he will immediately answer Najafi Street,’ says Imad Abdul Azizi, a professor of history at the University of Mosul. … ‘I was so joyful when Maktaba al-Sham came back to Najafi Street.’ …

“ ‘After the fall of [Saddam Hussein’s] regime, people were excited to get to know books,’ [Salim] remembers. ‘It was so open, nothing was forbidden.’ … But when ISIS came to Mosul in 2014, they banned works that did not fit their strict religious guidelines, which Salim says included almost all non-religious books. …

“Books became contraband. Salim hid the majority of his stock in a storage unit near his bookshop and secretly met customers in alleyways.

He would pass [customers] copies of novels in black plastic bags. The most popular works during those years were anti-authoritarian novels like 1984. …

“Bookselling was dangerous. Salim says ISIS kidnapped a bookshop owner named Dhaker Ali for selling law books and they burned his shop on Najafi Street. … ISIS came for Salim’s books as well. In the summer of 2015, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, fighters found the storage unit where he had hidden 5,000 books. … ‘They believed the books I brought from Egypt on society and philosophy were a violation…so they started the fire,’ says Salim. …

“But he continued to acquire books. Because he could not travel to get new titles, he bought used books from people’s home libraries and sold them to loyal customers. …

“Coming back to the Old City [after liberation] was a risk to his business. He says when he initially opened he lost money, but the impact he made on the community encouraged him to keep going. Sometimes, people with memories of Najafi Street come to take pictures of him and his shop on the street of bookstores. ‘People gave me the bravery to stay,’ says Salim.”

More at Atlas Obscura, here.

Read Full Post »

710-book-aid-record-shot-of-1st-mosul-shipment-ftw

Photo: Book Aid International
The first shipment of books for the University of Mosul’s library arrives in Iraq for Alaa Hamdon’s Book Bridge campaign.

It’s a good thing that humans are like ants in one regard because as soon as a community is destroyed, people begin the work to build it back up. That is what is happening in Mosul, Iraq, a city that was overrun by the culture-hating forces of Isis not that long ago.

Olivia Snaije writes at Publishing Perspectives, “Since the destruction of the University of Mosul’s library, momentum is building for Book Aid International’s efforts to coordinate and enable publishers’ contributions to rebuilding. …

“Most news accounts date the main destruction of the University of Mosul library to 2015, following the start of the Islamic State group’s occupation in June 2014. … The library had been one of the most important in Iraq and the Middle East, a repository of information on the cultures, religions, and ethnicities that make up the region. The destruction of thousands of books, many of them precious, was a tragic addition to the country’s list of tremendous cultural losses in recent years.

“Used by up to 40,000 students, the library was, in the words of Alaa Hamdon at the London Book Fair, ‘an icon for the university, a lighthouse for students and the community, a shining light at the heart of the university.’ Hamdon is the founder of the Mosul Book Bridge campaign to rebuild the library. …

“When Mosul was liberated from ISIS in 2017, Dr. Hamdon decided to establish the Mosul Book Bridge effort to rebuild the university’s library, and contacted Book Aid International. The British charity works with more than 100 publishers in the UK and reports sending up to 300,000 books to countries worldwide.

“Traditionally, Book Aid’s service area has been mostly in Africa. But [Alison Tweed, chief executive, said] that reports of the deliberate cultural and intellectual destruction in Iraq were so moving that she offered to partner with Hamdon’s Mosul Book Bridge campaign.

“ ‘We have infrastructure and logistics,’ she said, ‘and it seemed like a wonderful partnership. … We like a challenge. We made a selection of books and put them onto trucks. They sat in Bulgaria for a few weeks and then limped across the border. The situation is volatile and ever-changing, but the books got there.’

“When the first shipment of 3,750 or so books arrived in Mosul in March 2018, Hamdon said he and his colleagues danced in the street. Tweed said that her colleagues danced in the office. ‘That appreciation is everything for us, it makes our work worthwhile.’

“What made Book Aid’s coordination and contribution especially valuable was that they delivered new books that the University of Mosul had specifically requested, said Mehiyar Kathem, whose Nahrein Network helps people across the Middle East to ‘reclaim their ancient heritage as local history, putting it to constructive use for their communities.’ …

” ‘I visited Mosul in January,’ Kathem said. ‘I’d like to stress how important it is to have the physical books there because the Internet doesn’t work well. These are brand-new important books, because you also have out-of-date books donated, like a book on electronics from the 1980s.’ …

“Hamdon said that rebuilding the library can help ‘give hope to everyone living there, that culture is back. People will feel reassured about their education and their future.’ ”

More here.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: